The Current

One year after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico crisis hotline receiving 600 calls a day

A year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the population of the U.S. territory is in the grips of a mental health crisis.

Anniversary is a trigger for mental health issues, says hotline organizer

A 24-hour crisis hotline called 'Linea Pas', located near San Juan, is receiving around 600 calls a day, 30 per cent of which are related to suicide. (CBC)

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In a small room just outside San Juan, Puerto Rico, a dozen people man a 24-hour crisis hotline that is receiving some 600 calls a day.

Suzanne Roig Fuertes, who runs the mental health agency in charge of the Linea Pas hotline, said that nearly a third of those calls are related to suicide.

"Maria was a huge event, a very huge event," said Fuertes. "Many people have a lot of losses."

"Not only the loss of their houses, or their belongings, but also the loss of life, the loss of the many people who left Puerto Rico, their neighbours, their family, their sons, their parents."

Suzanne Roig Fuertes is the administrator of mental health and anti-addiction services in the town of Bayamon, near San Juan. With the anniversary of Hurricane Maria that has caused so much misery for Puerto Ricans, plus the start of a new storm season, its 24-hour crisis hotline is getting about 600 calls a day seeking help - nearly a third of them related to suicidal thoughts. 0:38

Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory last September with winds of close to 240 km/hr, causing billions of dollars worth of damage. The official death toll was initially set at 64, but last month Puerto Rico's governor formally revised that to 2,975, based on a George Washington University study. The new figure includes those who died in the aftermath of the hurricane, due to a lack of essentials like healthcare, power and clean water. Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump disputed that figure on Twitter, claiming that there were "anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths."

Puerto Rico is recovering, Fuertes said, but the anniversary this week is weighing heavily on people's minds. She and her team are travelling door-to-door to offer support to the island's population.

The CBC's Ioanna Roumeliotis travelled to Puerto Rico, where she saw the impact that the hurricane has had on mental health. Listen to her discussion with The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti above, and watch her report on The National tonight on CBC Television and streamed online.

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath.


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